There's just some things you gotta do
by Dan Greene
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The original from 1974, not the remake. The remake wasn’t too bad considering the amount of them being made these days, and the quality of said remakes, but the new one did lack in a few areas. I’ll blather on mindlessly about those areas at a later date, but today is the day that we all get to talk about one of the best horror movies ever made, baby, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One of the most important too. Yes, horror movies are important, of course they are. Let’s not even start that. There might be movie spoilers here, but TCM is over 30 years old. How long do you want me to wait for you, I mean shit….
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Think about it as if you’d never heard of the movie before. A little bit more memorable than, say, The Grudge or I Know What You Did Last Summer. No man, this movie is about a massacre in Texas that involves the use of a chainsaw. There’s this one guy who is way more bad news than any horror villain who has ever appeared onscreen, including some prepubescent chick who pisses on the carpet at parties and stabs herself in the crotch with crap from the parish gift shop. That act was, like, so 1973.
That’s bullshit. The Exorcist is one kickass movie and I’ll be hitting it soon enough.
I was about 12 or 13 when I first saw this movie. The original, crappy, dark as night version. The sound wasn’t too bad but the picture sucked. I couldn’t watch it, as much as I wanted to. I could tell that something cool was going on, but I just couldn’t tell what the hell it was.
Then they remastered it and released it into the general population. Nice move. Well into adulthood, well seasoned in horror and desensitized to any kind of video violence, I was blown away. No wonder people freaked out when it was first released. Even though there’s hardly any blood in this movie, it’s gruesome and graphic and gory in a very unique way – it’s smart as hell without acting like it. The whole thing is well done and pretty disturbing.
You see, what’s missing from this movie – which is one of the things that makes it so great, by the way – is reason. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end, but if you’re not watching the clock it’s pretty hard to tell exactly where you are. Once the confusion starts, it rapidly escalates to terror and doesn’t let up until Leatherface is shaking his fist at the clouds. And there’s not a whole lot of sense to be made of the movie; it relates to the unknown. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is easy to understand; what I mean is that they were very successful in portraying that whole sense of, “What the fuck is going on?”, that sense of mental chaos, running for your life for reasons that, in reality, would almost be beyond your comprehension entirely. Most of us have run from something or other, maybe even run from getting killed by someone, but who among us has run from being chopped up with a chainsaw and made into sausages for other people to eat? And realizing that that’s what will happen to us if we get nailed?
Usually in a movie like this, you’re told why the villains are so damn villainous; you’re given a motive. A horror movie will either make no sense at all due to budgets and bad script editing, or else it’s a ninety minute box of logic with every last thing spelled out for you phonetically like you’re retarded. We’re treated as if we’re either too stupid to figure out any details or too stupid to care. For the price of a movie ticket you’ve come to expect the ability to see inside the mind of a killer. Not so in this one. This one is less explanatory and a hell of a lot better. The best motive you can possibly come up with for the villains in this movie is:
“I guess they like to kill people and eat them….”
Horror Karma (which states: commit an evil deed and die within 120 minutes) doesn’t even really come into play here, not to the extent we’re all used to. We’re used to someone smoking a joint or a dick before they themselves get smoked. Only one of the crew survives this ordeal and it’s not that easy to say why she lives and the others die. People start dropping, or getting hung on meathooks, before they show you why they should die. And that’s sweet.
They grab you right at the start. Right at the very beginning, with the credits. Just darkness, and then a flash of light revealing something you can’t quite make out, although it looks kind of gross. A weird sound effect too, every time the light flashes…. What is that? I think it’s a camera. Yeah, it is. Someone’s taking pictures. Then you can hear the words. A news report on the radio, describing illegal exhumations and thefts of body parts from assorted graveyards. The camera pans and you see this weird piece of, um, art. A bunch of bones arranged, just so, in a graveyard. Those effects don’t make any sense the first time you watch it, but they do in retrospect. The whole thing is unsettling right away…. You know why? Because there’s no rhyme or reason to it; it’s the unknown, just like the rest of the movie. Before the fucking credits are gone, they’ve ripped the carpet out from under you. You’re looking for something to cling to, so they give you….
A vanload of kids. A vanload of latter day hippies, really, so there’s little in the way of empathizing with the victims. All the same, they’re more or less human so we can categorize them as the “normals”, “good guys”, or “those guys that’ll probably die” if you will. Should we laugh when Franklin takes a spill on the side of the road? Sure thing! Should we laugh when the poor crippled guy in the wheelchair goes ass over tits down a hill and spills a jar of piss all over himself? Of course not. Wait, that’s the same scene. Mom always told me not to laugh at people with physical handicaps but Franklin was fucking asking for it, okay? Who the hell starts poking at a van’s interior with a knife for the hell of it? Who the hell thinks that the best way to find a lost person is to wait for them to find you? Who the hell thinks that a wheelchair will work as well in the woods as it will on pavement? Who exactly had a few things in common with the hitchhiker, such as knives and an interest in slaughterhouses? FRANKLIN! I’m not laughing at Franklin because he was handicapped, I’m laughing at Franklin because he was a fucking dolt. That chainsaw in the chest was long overdue and a welcome relief from the hell they call The Life Of Franklin Hardesty.
Speaking of which, just check out the way Kirk bites it. Which one is Kirk? He died first. Now, he kept his horror karma intact – he made the mistake of trespassing, going into a strange house uninvited don’t ya know – so he hardly made it past the front porch. Response was swift and brutal in the form of one Leatherface coming from behind a sliding metal door (some kind of heavy duty garage type door that opens sideways) and slamming Kirk in the forehead with a mallet. And down he goes! A couple of seconds to show his body’s nerves freaking out (anyone who’s ever killed anything from a fish to a deer to a human will know what I’m talking about) in that spasmodic dance o’ death. Pretty realistic. Leatherface leans down, grabs the fresh carcass and drags it to his side of the door, then slams the door shut in a way that lets you know the meaning of the word final. The kid just ain’t coming back and that slam is more conclusive than a coffin lid.
The one survivor, Sally Hardesty, is involved in what is one of the best scenes in the movie. Terrorized, she finds help in the form of an Old Man. His idea of helping is to throw the girl in a sack and bring her home. So they’re driving along, he in the driver’s seat and she on the floor of the passenger side, and of course she’s scared. She’s whimpering in fear, tied up in a smelly old bag on her way to God knows where. The Old Man tells her to calm down, that things are going to be just fine, just stop making noise and you’ll be fine, li’l girl. So she tries to calm down and stifle herself. So he starts laughing and poking the sack with a stick. Which makes her freak out, which makes him console her, which calms her down, which makes him start poking her with a stick again. Kinda hard. It’s one of the most twisted and realistic scenes of sadism I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s not particularly brutal or savage in its detail, but if you think about the experience, and the movie does make you do that, you’ll feel sick.
You’d expect her to be happy to get out of the sack, but you know what? When someone puts you in a sack against your will, you may be well advised to stay there. Once she got out of the sack she got to see that she’d been invited to dinner…. One she’d already been invited to and turned down, coincidentally enough.
“And I thought YOU was in a hurry!”
I fucking love October. So come on, tell me you’ve seen this movie. Or tell me that you haven’t and then curse me for ruining it. But watch it.